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President Trump met with dozens of victims of religious persecution at the White House on Wednesday as part of an ongoing effort by the administration to push for religious freedom abroad.

Twenty-seven people, including Christians from Burma, Vietnam, North Korea, Iran, Turkey, Cuba, Eritrea, Nigeria, and Sudan, Muslims from Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan and New Zealand, Jewish persecution victims from Yemen and Germany, a practitioner of Cao Dai from Vietnam and a Yazidi from Iraq all joined the president in the Oval Office as part of a four-day conference, called the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

Four of the participants were from China, and one, a Uighur Muslim victim, claimed the government has locked devotees in concentration camps.

RELIGIOUS HARASSMENT WORSENING ACROSS WORLD, PEW STUDY SHOWS

U.N. Human Rights Council experts estimated at least 1 million Uighurs have been held in detention centers within China, and at least two dozen countries have urged China to cease the religious persecution of the group that has over 11 million worshippers in the country, as Reuters reported.

The U.S., which already has a tenuous relationship with China over accusations of intellectual property theft, has touted the idea of sanctioning Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief of Xinjiang, along with other Chinese officials over the persecution of the Uighurs.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence are expected to address efforts to advance international religious freedom, a top foreign policy agenda for Trump, at the final event of the conference on Thursday.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said “additional measures” to tackle persecution would be announced at the State Department meeting Thursday.

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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and other Democrats united in condemning President Trump on Wednesday night after the crowd at a North Carolina “Make America Great Again” rally broke out in a striking chant of “send her back” while the president criticized Omar and other members of the so-called progressive Democrat “squad.”

The three words referred to Trump’s tweet on Sunday in which the president said unnamed “Democrat Congresswomen” should go back and fix the “corrupt” and “crime infested places” from which they came and then “come back and show us how it’s done.”

The president later all but affirmed he was referring to Omar, as well as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley — all of whom, except Omar, were born in the United States. After a historic floor fight, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives formally condemned Trump’s comments as “racist” on Tuesday.

“Let ’em leave …  they’re always telling us how to run it, how to do this, how to do that. You know what? If they don’t love it, tell ’em to leave it,” Trump said at the rally, doubling down on his earlier comments.

In response on Wednesday evening, Omar quoted civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou on Twitter: “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

She also retweeted a post from California Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat, calling out the “racist chant” and urging people to “vote, donate & organize like never before” to save “the soul of our country.”

Omar also retweeted Minnesota State Sen. Matt Klein’s message of support.

“Congresswoman Omar is staying here,” Klein wrote. “I welcome your opinions on her policies. But if you think you are more American than her, you don’t know what America is, and it is you that should leave.”

In his wide-ranging rally Wednesday, Trump went point-by-point, member-by-member, as he unloaded on the squad. Trump specifically slammed Omar saying she “smeared U.S. service members in ‘Black Hawk Down.’ She slandered the brave Americans trying to keep peace in Somalia” — a dig at her Somali-American heritage.

Trump also said Omar blamed America for the economic crisis in Venezuela and refused to condemn Al Qaeda.

Trump then moved on to his critique of Tlaib, saying she “used the F-word to describe the presidency and your president.”

“That’s not nice, even for me,” Trump said. “That’s not somebody who loves our country.”

The president then took aim at Ocasio-Cortez, whom he mocked for her “three different names” as well as saying she inaccurately described the migrant holding facilities at the southern border as concentration camps.

Of Pressley, Trump said the Massachusetts congresswoman “thinks that people with the same skin color all need to think the same. She said, ‘we don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be brown voices, we don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice,'” a reference to remarks Pressley gave at a conference this past weekend. “Can you imagine if I said that?”

At the top of his remarks Wednesday night, Trump celebrated the House’s decision to shelve impeachment proceedings against him.

HOUSE VOTES TO KILL REP. AL GREEN’S RESOLUTION TO IMPEACH TRUMP

“I just heard that the United States House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted to kill the most ridiculous project I ever worked on,” Trump said, referring to an impeachment resolution proposed by Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, that was widely opposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other top Democrats.

“The resolution — How stupid is that? — on impeachment.”

Trump called the 332-95 vote to sideline the impeachment resolution Wednesday “totally lopsided” and a “slaughter,” and instead touted the strong economy and low unemployment numbers under his administration.

“And they want to try and impeach,” he said. “It’s a disgrace.”

Fox New’s Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.

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Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart on Wednesday ripped Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., after he blocked a measure providing compensation to 9/11 workers, saying the price tag was too high.

“Bret, this is about what kind of society we have,” a furious Stewart told Bret Baier during an appearance on Fox News. “At some point, we have to stand up for the people who have always stood up for us, and at this moment in time maybe cannot stand up for themselves due to their illnesses and their injuries. And what Rand Paul did today on the floor of the Senate was outrageous.” 

Paul said he would offer an amendment on the cost of the bill, titled the Never Forget the Heroes Act, when it reaches the Senate floor.

Stewart last month spoke before the House Judiciary Committee on reauthorizing the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

He said Paul’s reasoning wasn’t good enough.  

“He is a guy who put us in hundreds of billions of dollars in debt,” he said of Paul. “And now he’s going to tell us that a billion dollars a year over 10 years is just too much for us to handle? You know, there are some things that they have no trouble putting on the credit card, but somehow when it comes to the 9/11 first responder community—the cops, the firefighters, the construction workers, the volunteers, the survivors — all of a sudden we’ve got to go through this.”

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Newt Gingrich said Thursday that the public feud between freshman congresswomen and Nancy Pelosi is a result of “bitter differences” between the two and that the House Speaker needs to realize she’s “the grandmother” in the conflict.

Tensions have reached a boiling point between Pelosi and newcomer Democrats in the House such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The New York congresswoman has made clear that she believes Pelosi is “singling out” progressive women of color like herself,  Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., after Pelosi reportedly told Democrats to approach her personally about issues instead of airing out disagreements on Twitter.

During a Thursday morning appearance on “America’s Newsroom,” the former Speaker of the House said that Ocasio-Cortez’s argument is a “classic comment by the hard left.”

“Everything becomes either an attack on women, but since Pelosi is a woman, it has to be women of color,” Gingrich said. “The key thing here is very simple. We have now seen a group of genuine radicals who are way outside any reasonable position, and their public spokesperson is AOC.

“They have a deep bitter difference with Nancy Pelosi, who is an old-time liberal, representing an establishment, which these people, several of these people beat Democratic incumbents, so they come in as the opponents of the very things that Nancy Pelosi stands for,” he continued.

Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter on Tuesday to address the conflict, slamming “sexist” Republicans who have dubbed their disagreement a “catfight.”

AOC ACCUSES CONGRESS OF USING WOMEN, MINORITIES AS ‘BARGAINING CHIPS’ WHO HAVE BEEN ‘AUCTIONED OFF’ FOR DECADES

OCASIO-CORTEZ: PELOSI GIVING ME BUSY WORK, MIGHT BE TRYING TO KEEP ME OUT OF THE WAY

“The reason [Republicans] find it so novel &exciting is bc the GOP haven’t elected enough women themselves to see that it can, in fact, be a normal occurrence in a functioning democracy [sic],” she wrote.

Gingrich added that he respects Pelosi and acknowledged that she is in a “hard place” balancing her own viewpoints with those of an increasingly progressive House. He also argued that the Speaker should recognize the part that a generational gap plays in the disagreement.

“Nancy Pelosi has to recognize — and I recognize my own age — that she is the grandmother,” he said. “She is yelling at these young members, and they are here thinking you are two generations older than me. Why am I supposed to listen to you?” he continued.

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Those resisting Pelosi are still a relatively small number in the wider context of House members, but Gingrich said that the Speaker will have a “much bigger problem” if that number begins to grow.

Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to the reporting of this story.

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Billionaire Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, wants to “break the corrupt stranglehold that corporations have on our government” and take on President Donald Trump in 2020.

Steyer’s comments came during a Thursday interview on “CBS This Morning.”  Steyer announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday.

“To me the biggest question facing the United States is not what we should do, but how are we going to break the corrupt stranglehold that corporations have on our government,” Steyer said.

He added: “For the last 10 years, I’ve been trying to push power back to the people of the United States.

Steyer, who will reportedly spend $100 million of his own funds on his campaign, said his candidacy is “not about the money.” He maintained it is aimed at “trying to retake the government.”

“This is about retaking the democracy from the corrupt corporate power that is determining what happens in Washington, D.C.”

Meanwhile, Steyer’s campaign to impeach Trump will continue under new leadership during his presidential bid.

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National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow Thursday praised Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, for her questions to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, saying he would give her “high marks” and saying he’d like to meet with her to discuss economics. 

“I’m a supply-side conservative and so forth,” Kudlow told Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.”

“I want to note in the hearings yesterday with Fed Chairman Jay Powell it was Ms. AOC who asked him about the Phillips Curve.”

The economic theory represents the relationship between inflation and the unemployment rate, finding that when unemployment is high, wages increase slowly, but when it’s low, wages go up rapidly. 

During a hearing on Wednesday, Powell largely agreed with Ocasio-Cortez when she said economists are concerned that the curve is “no longer describing what is happening in today’s economy,” and Kudlow said he agrees. 

“By the way, that is my position,” said Kudlow. “That has been the president’s position. Strong growth doesn’t cause higher inflation and interest rates. It looks like the Fed is going to have to cut their rates.”

And, he added, “nobody in life is all good or all bad…I’ve got to give hats off to Ms. AOC. She kind of nailed that. I’m hoping she and I can sit down to talk supply-side economics very soon.”

He further noted that there was a large jobs number that came out last Friday, and the nation is in a “powerful prosperity cycle because of pro-growth policies on taxes, regulation, trade reform, energy and so forth. There is no stopping it.”

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The Supreme Court is gearing up to decide next term whether states can ban students from using student-aid programs to attend religious institutions – an education dispute that could have major ramifications for the school choice movement.

The justices announced at the end of last month’s session that they will take up the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue — which concerns whether states can ban student-aid programs that allow families to choose religious schools for their children. In December 2018, the Montana Supreme Court struck down a tax-credit scholarship program in the state, saying the program violated the state constitution’s “No-Aid clause” barring government money for religious schools because it had allowed students to use the money for that purpose.

“Every parent should have the right to choose where they send their kids to school,” Kendra Espinoza, one of the plaintiffs challenging the Montana decision, told Fox News.

Kendra Espinoza and her daughters. Espinoza is a plaintiff in a school choice case that’s made its way to the Supreme Court. (Institute for Justice)

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Others see the case as an assault on the separation of church and state.

“The decision by the court to review the Montana case signals that the majority may be gunning for the strong provisions in most state constitutions that bar public school funds from going to religion or religious schools,” the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a liberal advocacy group, said in a June 28 statement.

Government money going to religious schools doesn’t necessarily violate the First Amendment, but appeals courts are split on whether excluding such schools from programs like Montana’s violates religious freedom.

The legal staff of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which says it plans to file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court supporting the Montana decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Patrick Elliott, who spoke with Fox News, sits in the bottom row, second from the right. (FFRF)

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The tax-credit scholarship program, passed in May 2015, gave Montanans up to a $150 credit for donating to private scholarship organizations, which helped students pay for their choice of private schools.

It’s similar to many programs across the U.S., and other states have proposed tax-credit scholarship programs but not passed them due to confusion about their legality.

FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott says the Supreme Court should leave decisions on these programs to state courts.

“I think this case involves interference with state rights,” he told Fox News. “States can adopt constitutional protections without federal interference.”

Espinoza said she enrolled her daughters in a private Christian school because she wanted a values-based education that would challenge them academically, but she has trouble paying for tuition and relies on scholarships. She planned to use Montana’s tax-credit scholarship program.

“I’ve been working two and three jobs just to make ends meet,” she said. “There was a question of whether I could afford it.”

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But the Montana Department of Revenue said providing tax credits for donations that later help pay tuition at private schools amounts to indirect funding of religious education by the state, in violation of the “No-Aid clause” – also known as a Blaine Amendment. It made a rule preventing Espinoza or other religious school families from receiving the scholarships.

Espinoza and the libertarian Institute for Justice sued the department over that rule in December 2015, but the Montana Supreme Court invalidated the entire program last year. Espinoza’s lawyers say the program was voided simply because it afforded a religious option, and the U.S. Supreme Court should restore what the Montana legislature passed.

“The federal Constitution prohibits that kind of animus toward religion and the fact that animus is codified in the Montana Constitution in the Blaine Amendment only makes things that much worse,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Michael Bindas said.

Blaine Amendments originated in the 1870s when, as Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a 2000 case, “it was an open secret that ‘sectarian’ was code for ‘Catholic.’” Thirty-seven states have Blaine Amendments today, but Bindas calls them, “vestiges of 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry.”

Espinoza’s lawyers also cite Trinity Lutheran, a Supreme Court case from 2017 that ruled Missouri couldn’t deny a church a grant to resurface its playground simply because it was a church.

But Elliott said Blaine Amendments don’t mention a specific religion and have operated without bias.

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“No funding of religious education was something states decided early on because they didn’t want to have a religiously segregated school system,” he said. “Public schools are open regardless of religious background. That’s not always the case with private schools.”

If the justices reverse Montana’s decision, it could open the door to more scholarship and voucher programs across the U.S.

“This case has the potential to remove Blaine Amendments as a barrier to school choice throughout the country,” Bindas said.

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A Florida fisherman delivered a full-throated endorsement of President Trump‘s environmental policies Monday at the White House, crediting the administration’s efforts with helping turn his business around.

Bruce Hrobak, the owner of Billy Bones Bait and Tackle in Port St. Lucie, Florida, joined “Fox & Friends” Tuesday to explain how the administration helped combat the “red tide” of toxic algae that was devastating his business.

“The president loves everybody and I just don’t get why people give him a hard time. He’s a great guy and I was proud and honored to meet him,” said Hrobak, who shouted “Trump 2020” into the microphone at the end of his show-stealing appearance.

Hrobak made the president and the audience laugh a few times, joking that his wife isn’t “yelling at him as much” and that his father looked a little bit like Trump.

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Hrobak said his business suffered in recent years because people were scared away by the toxic algae, which has now subsided near his bait shop. He also touted the administration’s efforts to speed up repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike.

“He wouldn’t allow all this money to go improving things if he didn’t care. That’s my personal opinion,” he said.

In a White House speech that exhaustively documented his administration’s environmental efforts, Trump issued a new denunciation of the Green New Deal championed by top Democrats including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, saying the proposal would devastate the economy and hit minorities the hardest.

UNIONS WARN GREEN NEW DEAL MAY LEAD TO POVERTY

The address was aimed at publicizing the often under-reported work by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as firing a political shot across the bow of Democrats who largely have dominated the conversation on climate change and related issues.

It came as polls have shown Americans increasingly voicing concern over the environment.

“We have only one America. We have only one planet,” Trump said at one point. But, “while we’re focused on practical solutions, more than 100 Democrats in Congress now support the so-called Green New Deal. Their plan is estimated to cost our economy nearly $100 trillion — a number unthinkable, a number not affordable even in the best of times.”

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Democrats, however, dismissed the president’s environmental record, with presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee slamming Trump’s rollback of Obama-era regulations.

“President Trump’s record on the environment is pathetic and an embarrassment to the world,” Sanders, I-Vt., wrote. “This is a man who still thinks climate change is a ‘hoax.’ He better start listening to scientists and not his friends in the fossil fuel, chemical, and big agribusiness industries.”

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Inslee, who has made climate change the central issue for his campaign, tweeted throughout the event.

“As Trump touts his administration’s environmental ‘accomplishments,’ a reminder that the EPA is run by a coal lobbyist, Interior is run by an oil lobbyist and Energy is run by someone who wanted to abolish the department,” he tweeted.

Fox News’ Gregg Re contributed to this report.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Amy McGrath, a Marine combat aviator who narrowly lost a House race to an incumbent Republican in Kentucky, has set her sights on an even more formidable target: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McGrath, whose campaign announcement video in her House race showcased the viral power of social media to raise money and national profile, said Tuesday she will try to defeat one of the most entrenched officials in Washington in McConnell. But she sees him as vulnerable because of his lengthy tenure in Washington, his stance on healthcare, and his taut allegiance to the policies of President Donald Trump.

Her decision to enter the race represents a rare victory for Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who has had difficulty persuading top-tier candidates in other states to take on incumbent Republicans with control of the Senate at stake.

The contest also will test the power of incumbency against a call for generational change, along with a measure of whether Trump’s popularity is transferable.

McGrath, 44, will almost certainly be able to raise enough money to mount a serious challenge to McConnell, 77, but she is still a decided underdog in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since Wendell Ford in 1992.

“I’ve been always somebody who stepped up to the plate when asked, when I felt like my country needed me, and this is one of those times,” McGrath said in an interview.

She is attempting to repeat her viral moment with a new video, one that leans hard on idealism while also attacking McConnell as the embodiment of a dysfunctional Washington.

“I felt like somebody needs to stand up to him,” McGrath said.

McGrath also reprises one element of her first video, pointedly noting that when, as a 13-year-old girl, she wrote to McConnell to make the case that women should be able to fly in combat, the senator never wrote back.

But her attacks on McConnell and his record carry risks because Trump remains highly popular in Kentucky, and McConnell has pushed through much of the president’s agenda and, perhaps more importantly, his nominees to federal courts, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

She said that Kentucky voters are not fans of either political party and they supported Trump in part because of his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, lower drug prices, and deliver a more effective alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

“Those things haven’t happened because of guys like Senator McConnell,” she said.

McGrath lost to Rep. Andy Barr by 3 percentage points in the 2018 midterm election, a race that she had been so confident of winning that she was working on her victory speech as the first returns came in.

She ran up comfortable margins in the heavily Democratic Lexington area, but Barr was able to win overwhelmingly in rural areas. Barr also benefited from a campaign appearance by Trump, rare for a House member. Former Vice President Joe Biden went to Kentucky to campaign for McGrath in what proved to be a failed effort to win back onetime Democrats in rural areas.

Trump also is expected to actively support McConnell and to try to muddy McGrath at least as much as Barr did.

In that race, McGrath, a Naval Academy graduate, foreswore negative attack ads against Barr while he and several outside groups supporting him spent millions of dollars labeling her as “too liberal” for Kentucky. McGrath, who must first win the Democratic nomination, would not show similar restraint against McConnell.

Democrats have prepared briefing books of more than 1,000 pages on McConnell, whose long record and ties to Washington interest groups provide ripe openings for attack. But he also can make the case that he has been able to use his power in Washington for the benefit of the state.

McConnell has in Kentucky a fiercely loyal team of political operatives who are known for hard-hitting campaigns that leave his opponents badly bruised.

Schumer worked hard to persuade McGrath to run against McConnell. Several other would-be recruits, including former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, declined his overtures, and others, like former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, passed on Senate races to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand accuses President Trump of broken promises in the first TV commercial of her Democratic presidential bid.

Behind in the polls, the senator from New York’s campaign on Tuesday announced what they touted as the “first anti-Trump television attack ad of the 2020 presidential cycle.”

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Gillibrand aides said that the 30-second spot, titled “I Promise,” will run on cable TV and digital this week in the media markets in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio; and Detroit, Lansing and Flint, Mich. Those media markets mirror a campaign bus tour Gillibrand will make on Thursday and Friday through the three Rust Belt states.

Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan – won by former President Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections – were flipped from blue to red in 2016, helping Trump win the White House.

The commercial highlights what Gillibrand calls Trump’s broken promises on restoring manufacturing jobs, lowering prescription drug prices and building up the nation’s infrastructure.

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The ad starts with a clip of Trump from the 2016 presidential campaign saying “if I’m elected you won’t lose one plant. You’ll have plants coming into this country. You’re going to have jobs again. I promise.”

The spot then uses a clip of Trump saying “you’ll be seeing drug prices falling very substantially. I promise,” followed by a third clip of Trump vowing “we will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, I promise.”

The words “NO MORE BROKEN PROMISES” then flashes across the screen before Gillibrand emphasizes in a clip that “as president, I will take on the fights no one else will.”

The Gillibrand campaign tells Fox News that five figures are being spent to run the commercial over two days on both cable TV and digital.

The senator, who launched her White House bid in January, has struggled in the polls as she’s tried unsuccessfully — so far — to stand out from the historically large field of nearly two-dozen Democratic presidential contenders

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